Parents can now call a hotline to report inappropriate lessons at their schools, under a new initiative launched by the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) on Tuesday.
Superintendent Tom Horne discussed the hotline during a Wednesday interview on “The Mike Broomhead Show.” The superintendent said that teachers suspected of abusing their position may face disciplinary conduct and proposed that violations impact a school’s letter grade per the state’s A-F Accountability System.
“Teachers should be teaching the academic standards to their students and not abusing a captive audience by pushing their own ideology,” said Horne. “If they know that their kids have been taught those things, we want them to let us know so we can investigate it and try to do something about it.”
In a press release, ADE clarified that inappropriate public school lessons included those that focus on race or ethnicity, rather than individuals and merit; promoting gender ideology; social-emotional learning (SEL); or inappropriate sexual content. The department linked to our report documenting the over 200 educators who signed onto a statement proclaiming that they would teach outlawed materials like Critical Race Theory (CRT) – even if banned.
Anti-school choice activists and critics of Horne encouraged parents to flood the hotline, dubbed the “Empower Hotline.” Save Our Schools Arizona issued a call to action to drown out real reports from parents seeking help.
“[Please] report how amazing it is that teachers are doing so much for our kids despite the lack of resources provided to them,” stated SOSAZ.
The Empower Hotline rollout included a link to a page on the ADE site explaining Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).
ADE claimed that CRT is being taught in many public schools, and rejected the claim that it’s a college-level curriculum. ADE published a list of key words and phrases associated with CRT: oppressors or oppressed, whiteness, white privilege, white supremacy, white complicity, white equilibrium, and white fragility.
“The claim that CRT or its principles and elements is not part of any school curriculum in Arizona is false. It is being taught to children,” stated the ADE.
ADE also characterized SEL as a gateway for CRT. The department also claimed that SEL took away precious instructional time by focusing on emotions and feelings.
“Student test scores have been declining since before the pandemic, and resources – especially the non-renewable resource of time – need to be spent to fully educate students in core subjects,” stated ADE. “Teachers are professionals. They know their students and are already trained to be alert for signs of emotional and behavioral problems. This doesn’t require a full-blown curriculum that detracts from teaching academics.”
Horne warned in a statement that CRT can be taught under different titles, such as “power diversity” or “deep equity.”
Arizona Education Association (AEA) President Marisol Garcia called the hotline a “recipe for disaster.”
“Inviting the harassment of educators, without due process at their local level, with the ability of these ‘accusations’ to be FOIA’d?” asked Garcia.
Those seeking to file a report may call the hotline at (602) 771-3500 from 8:30 am to 4:40 pm, or submit an email to email@example.com.
A committee formed by University of Arizona (UArizona) faculty disbanded this month after they felt university officials were unsupportive of their efforts.
In a letter explaining their disbandment, the General Faculty Committee on University Safety For All informed Faculty Chair Leila Hudson and Faculty Vice Chair Mona Hymel that they feared negative repercussions if they continued their investigative efforts. Hudson had created the committee.
The committee issued a 30-page interim report in January claiming that UArizona suffers from “a glaring institutional failure” that compromises campus safety, and further accused the university of disregarding employee and student safety concerns. The committee’s primary focus on the report was the slaying of professor Thomas Meixner last October.
The accused killer, 46-year-old Murad Dervish, was denied a teaching assistant position for this spring semester by Meixner. Dervish initially sought out three other professors though he wasn’t able to locate them. The report documented Dervish’s lengthy criminal history prior to UArizona, as well as the timeline of his aggressive and predatory behavior leading to his expulsion and ban from campus.
“University officials knew about the prevalence of such violence risks but did not take necessary action to protect the victims,” stated the committee report.
The report also documented three other, unrelated cases to prove UArizona suffered from institutional failures compromising campus safety. These cases documented the alleged harassment and sexual misconduct of two male law students against two female law students; the doxxing and harassment of a female student reporter; and the police call on a student over fallout with a faculty member.
The committee further accused UArizona of suffering from a “chronic trust problem,” calling into question the competency and integrity of university administrators, the university’s capacity and willingness to address safety, and the imposition by administrators of a climate of retaliation and consequences.
The spokesman for UArizona issued a response to media outlets alleging that the committee’s work was based on “misleading characterizations and the selective use of facts and quotations.”
In order to cultivate its data, the committee engaged in one-hour listening sessions with four minority groups, and three faculty groups.
The Faculty Senate endorsed the report during a meeting last month.
The committee formed several weeks after the fatal shooting of Meixner last October.
UArizona hired consulting firm PAX Group to review and issue a report on their campus safety protocols. That report has not yet been publicized. The faculty committee was slated to issue a final report later this semester.
Members of the faculty committee were Chairwoman Jenny Lee, College of Education; Hoshin Gupta, College of Science; Jennifer Hatcher, College of Public Health; Luis Irizarry, graduate student liaison; Lisa Kiser, College of Nursing; Barak Orbach, College of Law; Christina Rocha, staff liaison; Shyam Sunder, Eller School of Management; and Lauryn White, student liaison.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has sued the Washington Elementary School District (WESD), alleging unconstitutional discrimination against Christians.
ADF filed the lawsuit on Thursday against WESD, claiming that the district’s recent decision to end a contract with Arizona Christian University (ACU) due to its religious beliefs on biblical marriage and sexuality constituted unlawful discrimination.
In a press release, ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman, claimed that WESD violated both the U.S. Constitution and state law by ending its contract with ACU based on the university’s religious beliefs.
“Washington Elementary School District officials are causing irreparable harm to ACU every day they force it to choose between its religious beliefs and partnering with the area’s public schools,” said Cortman.
AZ Free News first broke the story about WESD’s alleged discrimination last week, documenting how WESD Governing Board Member Tamillia Valenzuela, a self-identified neurodivergent queer furry, led a crusade to purge Christians from WESD.
Valenzuela said during the board’s Feb. 23 meeting that ACU’s mission to prioritize the teachings of Jesus Christ weren’t aligned with WESD priorities. WESD had contracted with ACU to have university students complete their student teaching and practical coursework at one of WESD’s campuses. All five of the governing board members voted to terminate WESD’s contract with ACU. 16 ACU students were involved with WESD at the time.
In January, Valenzuela also condemned the district for allowing Grand Canyon University (GCU) students to serve as interns with WESD. GCU is a private Christian university. Unlike with ACU, WESD opted to maintain its contract with GCU.
The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) condemned WESD’s decision to terminate its contract with ACU.
“Terminating a contract based on religious practices is unacceptable. The teachers from ACU sign a contract that adheres to the district’s guidelines, and it’s ill-advised to cut off an educator pipeline as our schools struggle with staffing,” stated ADE.
Social justice activists rallied around Valenzuela, issuing a call to action for community members to wear cat ears to Thursday’s board meeting.
Earlier this week, Democratic legislators also issued their support for Valenzuela. The Democrats claimed that criticisms of WESD and Valenzuela were coordinated by Republicans and intended to “demonize and demoralize school leaders, LGBTQ+ students, and our public school system.” The Democrats also claimed that criticisms of the district and Valenzuela would result in violence against officials and even students.
The Democrats’ statement didn’t address the concerns that WESD’s actions resulted in potentially unlawful religious discrimination against Christians.
Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), an anti-school choice teachers’ union activist group, helped get Valenzuela elected to WESD’s board last year.
During Thursday’s board meeting, Valenzuela claimed that lawmakers were bullying LGBTQ+ students by not accepting their lifestyles. Valenzuela claimed that realizing alternative sexualities constituted the fullest realization of humanity.
“There is a difference between acceptance and tolerance, and members of our society have been merely accepted, merely tolerated for their existence. We have watched as our children have been bullied for having autonomy,” said Valenzuela. “Know what Christ’s teachings were: it was love, it was acceptance. It was not cursing people out on Facebook and Twitter, it was not spreading misinformation.”
Valenzuela’s remarks elicited a mixed chorus of clapping and boos.
The Chairman of the House Education Committee is sponsoring a bill designed to increase awareness about school choice in Arizona, but Democrats remain in opposition to any policies that inform parents about their options to educate their children.
Representative Beverly Pingerelli introduced HB 2539, which “creates the Arizona School Choice Division within the State Board of Education, and outlines its duties and appropriates monies and FTEs (full-time employees) to the Division,” according to the overview provided by the Arizona House of Representatives.
Among other provisions of the bill, HB 2539 “directs the Division to implement a public awareness program about students’ abilities to choose any public schools and resources to explain school choice options;” and it “mandates the Division develop single-page informational pamphlets that can be accessed in physical and digital formats to educate parents on the available school choice options for students.” The legislation also “directs the Division to notify ADE if a charter school or school district that operates a D or F letter grade school submits, fails to submit or is late to submit compliance evidence within 60 days of letter grade assignment.”
In an exclusive interview with AZ Free News, Representative Pingerelli explained why she introduced this legislation: “Parents hold schools accountable in Arizona with school choice. But parents need transparency of school outcomes, and they need to be aware of their rights. The purpose of HB2539 is to ensure more parents are aware of ALL their choices. This bill requires that schools not only explain to their parents why and how they are failing to their parents if they have a D or F rating, but how they will improve their school. It relieves schools of the current burden of mailing the entire community a post-card mailer, which currently has almost no information on it. It is our job to ensure parents are informed. Finally, there are hundreds of new Arizonans arriving daily who likely are not experts in our education laws. We currently make no effort to help them. At the cost of an email, we can fix that.”
Last month, the bill passed both the House Education and House Rules Committee. The vote in the Education Committee was split across party lines, 6-4. All eight members of the Rules Committee voted in favor of HB 2539, pushing it one step closer to a vote before the entire House body.
Representatives from the Arizona School Administrators Association, Arizona Education Association, and Save Our Schools Arizona signed in against this bill as it went through the House committee process.
Over the past two sessions, many of the most contentious policy battles between Republicans and Democrats have been over the issue of school choice and providing more control and transparency to parents when it comes to their children’s education. Last year, after numerous debates between passionate members on both sides, the Arizona Legislature passed a historic expansion of the Education Savings Accounts program (ESA), which then-Governor Doug Ducey signed into law. This universal expansion was the first of its kind in the nation and was enacted with partisan votes in both chambers of the Arizona Legislature.
An online account advocating against passage of the bill, tweeted, “The not-too-hidden goal of denigrating public schools is to weaken support for teachers and their unions, and to redirect funds into school vouchers and other programs that pummel public education even further.”
HB 2539 now awaits its up-or-down vote in the full Arizona House of Representatives.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
At a time when one-fourth of all educator positions are vacant statewide, one Arizona school board has voted to reduce the number of university students pursuing education degrees who can do their on-site training in their district.
Washington Elementary School District serves a diverse population of K-8 students in north central Phoenix and east Glendale. It is the largest elementary school district in Arizona with 32 in-class schools and one online school, and has a highly promoted districtwide LGTBQ-acceptance policy.
For more than a decade, several degree students from Arizona Christian University (ACU) have done their student teaching and other practical coursework at one of WESD’s campuses. But in recent weeks, Tamillia Valenzuela has twice urged her fellow four WESD board members to end the district’s arrangement with ACU and another area university.
During a Feb. 23 board meeting, Valenzuela expressed concern that ACU’s mission prioritizes the teachings of Jesus Christ, values which she does not believe are “aligned with” WESD’s priorities. She said she was “really disheartened” to see district staff was asking to renew its long-running arrangement with ACU.
Valenzuela, who describes herself on the WESD website as a bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer Black Latina, cited no documented examples of how any WESD student, parent, or teacher has been negatively impacted over the last decade by the personal Christian values of any ACU student teacher.
However, the board voted 5 to 0 to end its arrangement with ACU at the completion of this school year. About 16 ACU students are currently involved with WESD.
Although several of the board members expressed concern with what they see as ACU’s rigid anti-LGBTQ philosophy, it was Valenzuela’s comments that were interpreted by many parents as pushing “no Christians welcomed” agenda for WESD.
Two WESD parents spoke to AZ Free News on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation against their children; both provided documentation of having students currently enrolled in the district.
“Clearly Ms. Valenzuela believes having Christians involved at Washington Elementary’s schools is unacceptable, whether those people are from Arizona Christian University or simply Christians in general,” one parent said. “Ms. Valenzuela actually said she has personal concerns with feeling ‘safe’ within WESD due to the presence of devout believers in Jesus Christ. What’s next? A religious litmus test for public school employees and teachers?”
The other parent found Valenzuela’s comments about values to be highly hypocritical.
“Tamillia wants to deny student teaching opportunities to ACU students because of her personal dislike of the university’s religious tenets,” the parent noted. “She cannot point us to one incident in all of these years in which any university student shirked their duties toward any WESD student. Yet Tamillia openly wants to discriminate against Christians. Really, who has the values problem?”
At a Jan. 12 board meeting, Valenzuela led a similar attack on the District’s practice of having students from the Grand Canyon University (GCU) social work program serve as interns at various WESD campuses. GCU, based in Phoenix, is one of the largest private Christian universities in the world.
Valenzuela alleged that GCU as an institution has acted in a harmful manner to a low-income community, and thus is not a good philosophical fit for WESD to partner with on social work and mental health. She also expressed concern with having Christian organizations affiliated with the district.
“I am wondering if there’s other options available, one so we are not actively engaging with an institution that’s causing harm and also so we can have options that are not based on a certain faith,” she said.
Lisa Mora, WESD’s assistant superintendent, pointed out there are a limited number of accredited social work university programs for WESD to work with. Many of them are offered through private colleges, and if district officials wish to continue prioritizing social and emotional services for students, “these universities have the ability to work with us directly.”
Valenzuela was the only “no” vote on renewing the relationship with GCU.
Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.
Arizona State University (ASU) began paying for children’s gender transitions at the start of the year, as part of a health care plan similar to one provided by at least one other state university.
ASU offers up to $10,000 in tax-free reimbursements for these treatments, which it dubbed “gender-affirming” medical care. Both employees and their dependents are eligible for the reimbursements.
ASU isn’t the only university to offer this benefit. The University of Arizona (UArizona) is also paying up to $10,000 for gender reassignment surgeries for employees and their dependents.
Employees or their dependents are eligible for these reimbursements if the gender transition services aren’t covered by the Arizona Department of Administration’s health care plan.
Reimbursement is available for gender-affirming medical care services not currently covered by the Arizona Department of Administration health care plan.
Minors may not receive gender transition surgery in the state, according to a bill codified in April of last year, SB1138. The legislation nearly died in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee. Former State Sen. Tyler Pace initially refused to support the bill. Pace changed his mind after reviewing the standards of care issued by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH) at the time.
Last September, WPATH modified their standards of care to declare that minors are capable of giving informed consent through a legal guardian.
Federal policy doesn’t address gender transition procedures as part of Medicaid coverage. In 2021 the Biden administration began enforcing a rule modifying the Affordable Care Act (ACA) non-discrimination provisions to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.
In November, a federal court rejected the Biden administration’s attempted expansion of sex-based discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
ASU’s Educational Outreach and Student Services provides a “trans-specific” resource page, which includes an 11-page guide informing faculty on proper transgender student inclusion in the classroom. Their advice included using pronouns in email signatures, attend training workshops to receive an “ally” placard and image to include in their communications, vocalize their pronouns on the first day of class, using gender-neutral terms on class documents, requesting pronouns from students prior to class, and establishing anti-bullying policies.
The guide characterized bullying as any negative commentary and the intentional use of incorrect pronouns.
“Blatant misgendering and transphobic comments create an unsafe and hostile learning environment for all students,” read the guide.
ASU also offers a $79, four-hour course for K-12 teachers to address the “social, emotional, and educational needs” of transgender students. Behind the course is the program manager for the Transgender Education Program (TEP), Cammy Bellis, who’s work at ASU over the past decade concerned establishing safe and affirming K-12 environments for LGBTQ+ students. TEP has existed for nearly seven years. Bellis was formerly an education training coordinator and board member for the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) chapter in Phoenix.
GLSEN is a national organization pushing LGBTQ+ ideologies onto minors.
ASU disclosed that their surveys revealed an increase in transgender or LGBTQ+ students over the years, with an estimate that there would be one or more transgender or LGBTQ+ student in every classroom.